My favorite part of living in NYC was escaping it into the semi-wilds of the Hudson Valley. In an attempt to recreate this experience here, I bought a book called “Hiking in Brandenburg” with 50 hikes all around the doughnut shaped state that surrounds Berlin. Unlike most of the hiking I did in NY, all of these hikes are accessible by train. So on Pfingsten -a national holiday that honors someone’s ascension to heaven, we took the train to Dannenwalde and began a 21 kilometer hike.
If anyone needs reminding, divided Berlin was completely surrounded by East Germany. So leaving the city today means entering the former GDR. This is great for nature lovers because even as the capital, Berlin didn’t develop the urban sprawl that most large cities have -thus the name of my blog!
But nature in Germany is not very wild. Almost the entire country has been tamed by centuries of human development -fields for food, forests for wood, lakes damned and rivers channeled into locks to ease the transport of goods across Europe. Of course, there are exceptions but Brandenburg is very flat and rather homogenous. Still, it’s not hard to find beauty in the landscape.
It’s also not hard to see wildlife. Almost immediately, we saw this badger!
Badger in German is “Dachs,” which got me curious about how Dachshunds got their name. Apparently they were breed for hunting badgers, Dachshunds’ long narrow bodies perfect for chasing badgers out of their underground tunnels. We also saw a lot of storks and a really beautiful red heron that I have yet to identify and a bunch of not so wild animals that were quite friendly.
A lot of the hike was along old paths through forests and fields that connected small villages, so we were never too far from civilization.
The rest of the hike was mostly on the Havel, which was extremely pretty but also rather buggy. Christian was really glad when the path lead us slightly inland to the warm, dry open fields approaching Fürstenberg.
Of course, the most interesting part of the day I don’t have any pictures of. Just past a big lake called Stolpsee, we came across a field with some pretty recent looking ruins -cement foundations and street lamps. A large sign said that the site was formerly an industrial textile/fabric factory and that money from the European Union had been used to demolish the buildings, clear the rubble and now to let the earth breath. We walked a little further and came across an old railroad ferry that is a historical monument. Overgrown railroad tracks lead right to the banks of the river where the ferry could bear the weight an entire railroad car and transport it to the other side.
There was also a sign with more information about the textile factory. It began in the early 1900s as a factory for the netting used to burn in gas lamps before filaments came into use. The owner was forced to sell the factory during the Weimar years and eventually it came into the hands of the newly elected Nazis who immediately began producing weapons there. The little train ferry was still in use but this time, to transport prisoners from the concentration camp in Ravensbrücke to work in the factory.
I was stunned! This idyllic, beautiful place was once the landing point of forced laborers? It was hard to believe but in Germany, you are never far from this dark period of history. Suddenly the dancing Birch tree leaves and lapping water seemed so sinister. The information board went on to explain that after the war, the factory was used to build and repair tank parts for the GDR’s People’s Army. When it closed in 1993, the land tested positive for all sorts of toxins and the rehabilitation process described above began.
It was not long before we reached Fürstenberg, entering the medieval city over a wooden bridge that dumped us into the oldest part of town.
From there, we took the train back into Berlin.
The whole walk was really nice, but it wasn’t the same as hiking Storm King. But I realize I will have to nurse my longing for mountains and valleys for the amazing history that lies just beneath the sandy soil here.